Week 4, Day 2: Freedom
LOOK & LISTEN: Pharrell Williams, “Freedom” (2:45)
We were made to be free.
What does freedom mean to you? Freedom is something we hear a lot about here in the United States. America is, supposedly, “the land of the free.” The First Amendment of our Constitution grants us various freedoms, including the freedom of religion — and we should be thankful for the freedom to worship that we have and remember those in many parts of the world that don’t have this same freedom. The Declaration of Independence affirms that, among the inalienable rights of all men — and women — are life, liberty (which is synonymous with freedom) and the pursuit of happiness. And yet the history of our country actually points to freedom for a few at the expense of the many: the indigenous tribes who called this land home before Columbus ‘discovered’ it, the Africans enslaved to produce profits for slaveholders and the countless others who didn’t survive the Middle Passage, the undocumented migrant workers who do the undesirable, low-wage jobs in our economy.
What did Jesus mean when he said that he came “to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18)? Was he just talking about a metaphorical freedom or was there something more? Learning or rediscovering the fullness of God’s freedom — what God says freedom is — has the potential to change us all for the better and, through us, the world around us.
READ: GALATIANS 5:1-15
Here in the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia (modern day Turkey), he explains what true, gospel freedom is. To provide some context, there was a group of folks in the church who were saying that non-Jewish Christians had to be circumcised in order to be properly included in the community of faith. Circumcision was the sign of the promise God had made to the people of Israel through Abraham in the Old Testament. Paul didn’t agree with this idea, calling it “a yoke of slavery” — and you can see how strongly he feels about it in verse 12!
What We’re Free From
Paul writes, “Christ has set us free for freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again” (Galatians 5:1). The slavery he’s referring to is this idea that in order to be right before God, you can and need to do things. It’s easy for us to think that God couldn’t possibly love us unless we first make ourselves right, unless we clean up our act. Especially when we sin, when we mess up, it’s easy for us to think that God is looking down on us with disappointment and anger and judgment, that we’re no longer welcome in his presence — not until we say sorry, or maybe do some penance.
But the very core of the good news is that all is grace. We can’t do anything to make God love us more, nor can we do anything to make God love us less. None of the things you have done or had done to you determine how much God loves you. Your actions, your addictions, your good deeds, your screw-ups, your triumphs, your brokenness, your baggage — none of this determines how much God loves you. God has freed you from a life of trying to earn the affirmation of the One whose affirmation matters most and is most life-giving. Because of what he accomplished by his life, death and resurrection, Christ has set you free from the rat race of earning your salvation, earning God’s favor or approval, earning righteousness; he has set you free from the slavery of thinking that the way you are, or what you’ve thought, or what you’ve done, or what you’ve had done to you, changes how much God loves and cares for you.
For freedom Christ has set you free.
What We’re Free For
And yet true freedom has a purpose. Paul writes, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14). True freedom is finding ourselves living in the flow of God’s Spirit, reconciled with our heavenly Father, partnered with Jesus, and seeking the good of others for the sake of God’s kingdom. As the great anti-apartheid activist and South African president Nelson Mandela said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: How would you define freedom? Is this different from how your friends, your family, or your work colleagues might define freedom?
Heart: What might it look like for you not only to live into your freedom in Christ but to serve others? What would be difficult about that?
Hands: Find a way to serve someone today, whether in a big way or a small way.
Free us, Lord, from the prisons of our sin and our limited imaginations. Free us, Lord, to live and love as fully as you created us to. Free us so that we might also free others. In the name of the one who freed us. Amen.